Background to Rebellion

Women of 1798

Mary Ann McCracken.

Mary Ann Mc Cracken was born into a prosperous Presbyterian family in Belfast. Her place in history has been overshadowed by the activities of her brother Henry Joy who was a United Irish general and was executed for his part in the Battle of Antrim. The Mc Cracken children were educated at an experimental co-educational school.

The Mc Crackens and Thomas Russell came together in May 95. Together the men climbed to Mc Arts Fort on the summit of Cave Hill and swore “never to desist in our efforts ,until we had subverted the authority of England over our country , and asserted her independence.”

A society of United Irish Women existed since October 1796 but Mary Ann preferred the inclusion of women in the mainstream societies. She questioned the idea of Liberty and Equality and how this idea related to women of the time.

She fully supported the revolutionaries of 1798 and she and her sister later supported Thomas Russell in the 1803 Rebellion. After 1803 Mary Ann came to terms with a changing word. She lived through the industrial revolution in Belfast and in later years she noted in her writings “The sphere of woman’s industry is so confined and so few roads lie open to her … ”

In earlier years, she along with her sister Margaret had run their own muslin business but had been forced to close during a recession. For many years she played a leading role on the ladies Committee of the Belfast Charitable Society which ran the Clifton St. Poor house. In her old age a substantial collection was taken up in the town on her behalf.

Bridget Dolan

Bridget Dolan was born in the village of Carnew in county Wicklow in 1777. She was the only daughter of a poor thatcher and was probably illiterate.

Bridget Dolan was a member of the United Irish forces in Wicklow and took an active though not necessarily a military role in the Rebellion of 98. She took the Oath of secrecy which was the first step taken to initiate new members into the movement. The secrecy oath was meant to discourage members from disclosing sensitive information. She attended a meeting in January at Tombreen where she said women as well as men were sworn in. Women acted as couriers and carried messages, intelligence reports and supplies to the rebels. They also nursed the wounded.

As a teenager Bridget Dolan mixed with boys and taught herself to ride horses. As a skilled horsewoman she was probably engaged in reconnaissance, raiding and foraging within the movement. She took part in an ambush of a military supply convoy at Kilballyowen which resulted in the piking of two drivers. Her part was to set fire to the baggage car.

In September of 98 she defected from the republican to the loyalist cause and went on to become an informer. She was one of the most important agents employed by Wicklow’s court -martial program to bring United Irishmen to justice. She was an ideal witness as she was well acquainted with some of the leaders in Wicklow.

Bridget Dolan retired to Carnew where she received an allowance from the Castle. In later life she relied on the poor box in the Protestant church and charity of admirers. She was the only one of her extended family to be buried in the Church of Ireland graveyard in Carnew.

Mary Shackleton Leadbeater

In the year of the rebellion Mary Shackleton Leadbeater was aged forty, a writer and the mother of three children. From her letters and diaries it has been possible to explore the events of the rebellion from a woman’s perspective. She had written a book for children and her Annals of Ballitore later achieved considerable success.

She lived with her husband William Leadbeater and their children in the village of Ballitore in county Kildare. The village took an active role in the Leinster rebellion of May 1798. Mary was a lifelong member of the Society of Friends and had been since birth; her husband became a member as a young adult. She was a committed pacifist but during the years of upheaval she was sympathetic to radical republicanism. She, along with her husband and other local people, gave assistance to radical leaders within the United Irish movement.

The village of Ballitore was founded by the Society of Friends in 1707. Although Protestant, they were never part of the Protestant Ascendancy. They refused to pay tithes to the Established church, to serve as jurors or to support either the Volunteers , Militia or the Yeomanry.

Mary and other Quaker women often spent time travelling and preaching among members. They believed in the common weal of all the people regardless of class or sect. An avid reader, Mary read widely especially the French and English philosophers.

Between 1795 and 1798 the village of Ballitore was under military occupation and the Shackleton Leadbeater home was billeted by troops. In June of 1797 the government began its policy of active repression in the village. On 24 May Malachi Delany led approximately 200 United Irish men and women from Ballitore in three skirmishes with militia and regular army forces. They held out for three day’s but on 27 May the army retook Ballitore and “put it to the torch.”

Elizabeth Pim

Elizabeth Pim (nee Miller), lived a simple Quaker life in Rathangan during this period. She married William Pim on the 30th of March 1791 at Edenderry Meeting House. Her husband died in August 1800, and his widow Elizabeth was to live on until 1860. They had no children.

In her 91st year, Elizabeth’s recollections of the Rebellion were taken down word for word. The following extract is the vivid account from this unbiased woman on the Rebellion, led by John Doorly in Rathangan.

“The townspeople of Rathangan were much alarmed that day

(24th May), and towards evening my attention was drawn by Doctor Baggots wife to fires through the Country to be seen from her back windows which proved to be houses and haggards set fire to by the rebels.

That night, the rebels came towards the town in two bodies, one party by way of the church, and the other by the Newtown Road to endeavour to get possession of the town. A conflict took place between them and the Yeomanry, in which several of the former were killed (about 13). I saw the clothes stuck on the bayonets of the soldiers.

By next morning, orders had arrived for the troops to leave the town, which threw the inhabitants into a great state of alarm, many fled with them.

Seventh day, (May 26) was one of suspense. Thomas Neales house, was made a garrison for the Yeomanry who still remained.

The rebels led by Captain Doorly were seen coming to town (4 p.m.) in great numbers, it was truly frightful as many of them had straw on the end of their pikes to set fire to the town.

Before coming into town, the rebels went to James Spencer’s, who lived a short distance from the town. The broke open the house, killed himself, the clerk of the church and the latters son-in-law Haslam, and set fire to the haggard.

The garrison were induced to surrender and open the door, but the first man out being Murphy the Schoolmaster was murdered. I saw him lying dead with a little dog between his legs. Those who went out of the garrison being Protestants were murdered.

(19 Protestants were killed): So passed the truly awful seventh day.

First day (27th May) came as a day of feasting, also had to supply them with bacon. They took whatever they pleased, but on the whole we did not suffer very much.

Second day (28th May), morning early, a troop of Black Horse came galloping into town while numbers of the rebels were yet asleep, drunk from last night’s carouse. The troops were fired on from the canal stores which were in possession of the rebels. The troops had to retreat twice and left in the hands of the rebels an officer, whom they kept as a hostage; several horses were killed, about 2 o’clock the same day, General Longfield with the army approached Rathangan by way of the canal, the waters of which had been let off. On nearing the town, they drew up in order to level the town by cannon, being informed it was a nest of rebels, but being joined by Lord Feramley was dissuaded from his original purpose on their representing that there were some Quakers residing there.

The army then advanced and took possession of the town (after some cannon discharges), and soldiers began to plunder. The country was in a very unsettled condition for a long time but we did not see anything more of the rebellion afterwards.”